Direct Part Production from Additive Manufacturing

Progressive manufacturers—some of them quite small—are using additive manufacturing technology to product finished goods. Noted analyst Terry Wohlers provides an overview of new developments in this growing area.

By Terry Wohlers
Wohlers Associates
VEKTORRUM Contributing Analyst

Additive manufacturing (AM) technology is having a profound impact on the way some companies manufacture products. These organizations—some very small—are successfully applying the technology to the production of finished goods. Wohlers Associates believes that this practice will grow to become the most significant application of the technology. In the future, many organizations will use AM to manufacture a wide range of custom and limited-edition products and replacement parts. Companies will use AM for short-run and series production in part quantities ranging from one to thousands.

For the first time, a large and impressive number of consumer products from AM are available for purchase from multiple sources. For example, FigurePrints, a company founded by former Microsoft vice president Ed Fries, produced 1,700 custom products using AM for players of World of Warcraft in October 2008. This came only 10 months after the company launched the manufacturing service.

Wolhers chart on additive manufacturing growth
Growth of Additive Manufacturing

The MGX division of Materialise of Belgium was launched in 2004. The group applies methods of additive manufacturing to the production of limited-edition lighting designs, furniture, and other home and office accessories. The complexity of most of the designs in the collection makes it impossible to produce them any other way. The MGX business was about $2 million in 2009, the majority coming from selling around 1,500 lamps. So far, about 10,000 MGX lamps have been sold worldwide.

Companies in the additive manufacturing business are optimistic about the future growth of AM for part production applications. Organizations representing thousands of users and customers of AM technology from around the world responded to a survey on the subject. They believe that AM part production will represent 35.9% of their business in five years, as shown in the accompanying chart. In 10 years, the same companies believe it will represent more than half (50.5%) of their business. The survey respondents said that AM part production was 15.6% of their business in 2008. §

Editor’s Note: Much of the information in this article was taken from Wohlers Report 2009, a 250-page global study that focuses on the advances in additive manufacturing worldwide. A detailed overview of the report, as well as additional information on the market and industry, are available at the Wohlers Associates web site.